Movie Review: Satyagraha

Updated 05 Sep 2013


The people need a hero, so who better to turn to than the local retired school master, turned provincial politics upheavaler.

Long before a climax plucked right out of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, director Prakash Jha’s “Satyagraha”, which rallies for sense and sensibilities and against corrupt government officials, loses a lot of its steam. Although the end is corny to the hilt, with rousing speeches advocating democracy and power of the people, we see this happen too much too often, especially in Mr. Jha’s and his star player Amitabh Bachchan’s career (the last time they did something similar was “Aarakshan”, two years back).

“Satyagraha” means “insistence on truth”, so at the very least walk into the multiplex expecting to see governmental ineffectiveness and their aptitude for bribery being bitch-slapped by the filmmakers. As it happens, Mr. Jha takes the idea literally to heart.

Mr. Bachchan is Dwarka Anand, a retired principal with a mean-streak against the system (and commercialism) who does the unthinkable: he slaps a government official right in the smacker. Promptly boarded in a jail cell, Dwarka’s predicament is boomed across the social media by Manav (Ajay Devgn), a rising telecom entrepreneur who is his late son’s best friend. Alas, Dwarka hates Manav as much as he loathes corruption.

However that doesn’t slow down Manav who cons star reporter Yasmin Ahmed (Kareena Kapoor) into covering this injustice. Yasmin, a hard-as-nails ace for a television network, for some dramatic Bollywood-bred reason forswears unbiased journalism and enlists in Dwarka’s cause to iron out the system’s creases. The fabric though is tricky, and the iron’s setting needs constant tweaking (and of course, “Satyagraha” needed a strong-willed heroine to balance out the male-dominance).

“Satyagraha” starts out swell, even originally, for at least until the intermission, asking the right questions and building up a rational path to the post-break conflict. And then it crumbles bad, piling up drama-upon-drama that borders on being frivolous.

There are aspects that do click in the interim: a rock-update of “Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram” (aka “Janta Rocks” in the OST), a spic-and-span cinematographic palette, snappish editing and apt-to-the-topic direction by Mr. Jha, try to balance the more feeble points of storytelling.

“Satyagraha” also stars Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai (both Mr. Jha’s regulars), Vipin Sharma, and Amrita Rao, who’s relegated to being a piece of furniture (Ms. Rao, plays Mr. Bachchan’s widowed daughter-in-law doesn’t have that much to do within Anjum Rajabali, Rutvik Oza and Mr. Jha’s screenplay).

Sometimes it may look like Mr. Rampal and Mr. Bajpai may have some manner of weight in the overall turn of events, however in reality they’re just variations of stereotypes we routinely expect from a film like “Satyagraha” (Mr. Rampal, though, still looks good, so that may count in his favor, and Mr. Bajpai makes his vile politician work despite the clichés). That leaves Mr. Devgn, and Ms. Kapoor rolling out humdrum acting skills, in a very long running time that becomes a nuisance.

Contrary to the others, Mr. Bachchan, now a veteran of both his own acting prowess and of his roles as a martyr, is a powerhouse player. The thing with Mr. Bachchan is he takes a while to come into his character, both in his scenes and in the length of his movies. This is a key disadvantage, particularly at times when the film’s attention span dwindles with loosely knit plot-points.

At one point, Mr. Bachchan’s goes into his

anchor persona, and says: “Aapka Waqt Shuru Hota Hai - Ab” (“Your time starts – Now”). It is an intentional moment made for a snicker, if not a chortle – but there aren’t many other relief points. Too much becomes too serious for too long.

Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee and Amrita Rao.

Directed by Prakash Jha; Produced by Mr. Jha, Ronnie Screwvala and Siddharth Roy Kapur; Written by Mr. Jha, Rutvik Oza and Anjum Rajabali; Cinematography by Sachin Krishn; Edited by Santosh Mandal; Music by Salim-Sulaiman.

Released by UTV Motion Pictures, “Satyagraha” is rated U/A. It is too long, and intermittently sloppy by the end.